Worthington Christian Roundup: 'Special' Warriors boys basketball squad made memorable run

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Cleveland Heights Lutheran East players celebrate behind Worthington Christian's D.J. Moore after their 61-56 win over the Warriors in the Division III state championship game March 21 at the University of Dayton.

Since becoming Worthington Christian’s boys basketball coach 21 seasons ago, Kevin Weakley has made it a practice not to compare groups of players he’s guided on the court.

The latest group, however, will stick out in his memory for the long haul. 

Featuring a six-member senior class that included three starters and a key bench player to go along with the Division III district Player of the Year in junior point guard D.J. Moore, the Warriors made it to the final day of the season. 

With a 61-56 loss to Cleveland Heights Lutheran East on March 21 in the state final at the University of Dayton, Worthington Christian finished 28-2. The Warriors won the MSL-Ohio Division championship and reached the state title game for the fourth time. 

“They’re all special in their own way, but this group of kids, a lot of them I’ve known (for most of their lives),” Weakley said. “(Senior) Tyler (Kindberg) was a pre-schooler at Worthington Christian when I first met him and D.J. was in third grade, so you get to know these kids and you obviously have relationships with their families.  

“I told the guys in the locker room that I didn’t become a coach 21 years ago to win state titles. That’s never really been my goal. I have a love for kids and a love for the game and that’s the most fun part of the season. We had basically five months of mask wearing, physical distancing, do this, do that and don’t do this and don’t do that, yet we still became a family. … To get kids to believe in each other and sacrifice for each other, that’s one of the greatest accomplishments of the season.” 

The Warriors beat Cincinnati Taft 47-45 in a state semifinal March 19 in Dayton when Moore hit a jumper just before the buzzer sounded, sending the program to its first state final since 2008.  

Moore, who tied the game at 45 on a basket with 55 seconds to go and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, might have been even better in the state final.

He missed his first four shots and Worthington Christian missed its first 11 overall, but Moore hit a 3-pointer before the first-quarter buzzer sounded to cut the deficit to 10-5. 

The Warriors trailed the entire state final, including 49-37 with 4 minutes, 46 seconds to play before rallying to within 57-55 with 55.7 seconds left when junior guard Tommy Anthony scored his only basket following a steal. 

Lutheran East, which was state runner-up in 2019, made four of six free throws down the stretch to hold on and overcome a 28-point performance from Moore. He also had five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Kindberg, a first-team all-league and second-team all-district honoree who has committed to Indiana Wesleyan, scored 13 points. 

Worthington Christian's Tyler Kindberg drives in for a layup past Cleveland Heights Lutheran East's B.J. Busbee during the Division III state final. The Warriors finished 28-2.

“My goal was always to play in the state championship game,” Kindberg said. “You obviously want to win, but to play this long, from the first possible practice to the last possible game, I’ll remember these games forever. I played with most of (my teammates) for a couple years now and it’s sad not to end your career on a win, but it’s awesome (to be here).” 

Kindberg, who averaged 13.5 points, was joined in the senior class by starting forwards Kobe Buford and Isaiah Hazelwood, both of whom averaged 6.0 points. 

Senior guard Drew Faieta averaged 5.0 points. He also made a game-winning 3-pointer in a 50-47 victory over Wheelersburg in a regional semifinal March 10 at Chillicothe Southeastern. 

Buford was third-team all-league and honorable mention all-district along with Hazelwood and freshman forward Sam Johnson, who averaged 7.0 points. 

Moore, who also was named MSL-Ohio Player of the Year, averaged 18 points. 

Junior forward JaVaun Robinson, who saw limited action in the state semifinal, and freshman guard Jonah Lewis are others eligible to return. 

Worthington Christian advanced to its fifth state tournament with a 50-28 win over Proctorville Fairland in a regional final March 13 at Southeastern. 

“We’ll be starting over (next year), but that’s high school coaching,” Weakley said. “There’s a joy in that, too. 

“(Johnson’s) going to be a tremendous player in his four years and he’s a special kid, too, and very coachable. … Guys like Kobe Buford and Tommy Anthony sacrifice things they can do offensively to play their role on the team and we could never be there without their efforts on the defensive end. That’s one of the reasons we’re so good is because our players complement each other and play their roles to the best of their ability. That’s what high school sports is all about.” 

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BOYS BASKETBALL 

Record: 28-2 overall 

MSL-Ohio standings: Worthington Christian (8-0), Whitehall (6-3), Bexley and Buckeye Valley (5-4), Columbus Academy (3-5), Wellington (2-6), Grandview (1-8) 

Seniors lost: Kobe Buford, Drew Faieta, Isaiah Hazelwood, Daniel Kimbrough, Tyler Kindberg and Aaron Manzer 

Key returnees: Tommy Anthony, Sam Johnson, Jonah Lewis, D.J. Moore and JaVaun Robinson 

Postseason: Defeated West Jefferson 73-26, def. Galion Northmor 60-24, def. Columbus Academy 55-40, def. Harvest Prep 50-25, def. Wheelersburg 50-47, def. Proctorville Fairland 50-28, def. Cincinnati Taft 47-45, lost to Cleveland Heights Lutheran East 61-56 in Division III state final